Monday, November 28, 2005

Vieques done wrong by U.S.

Original Chimes Article Here

Call to Justice:
Vieques done wrong by U.S.

The story of Vieques flashed briefly across the newspapers last year, and then was lost quickly from the public mind. It seems almost anachronistic; a throwback to the days of imperialism. However, the story of this island is very current and very real.

Vieques has been a territory of the United States ever since it was annexed in 1898. It is considered an island municipality of Puerto Rico, from which it is separated by six to eight miles of sea. The island is 21 by four miles large, and has a population of 9,400.

In the 1940s, the Pentagon took control of two thirds of the island. The United States removed thousands of native Viequenses by force, and those allowed to remain were sandwiched in between two large United States Naval facilities.

For the next 60 years, the island was used for all sorts of training exercises by the Marines, the Army and the Air Force.

The island was also used as practice for various invasions the United States made against its South American neighbors. It was used before invading Guatemala in 1954, before Cuba in 1961, Santo Domingo in 1965, Chile in 1973, Granada in 1983 and Panama in 1989. It was also used against El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam.

Among the various other misuses the United States has found for the island is using it as training ground for bombing.

The International Action Center describes it as “60 years of constant pounding with live ammunition, including depleted uranium, napalm and other toxic chemicals.” The result? A 27 percent higher cancer rate than nearby Puerto Rico, and the destruction of what was once a rich and beautiful ecosystem.

The remaining inhabitants of Vieques have suffered much. Because the military occupies so much of the island, there is no room for anything more than an outpatient clinic to serve the health needs of the native Viequenses. The nearest hospital is 18 miles away by sea.

The economy has also been unable to flourish because there is so little land left that the military does not hold. Unemployment in Vieques is 50 percent.

The breaking point was finally reached this spring when, on April 19, a U.S. fighter plane dropped two bombs in a training exercise that killed civilian David Sane and injured four other people.

Mass protesting by the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico forced the bombing to come to a halt.

In a united effort, Vieques and Puerto Rico have tried to force the Navy to leave the island. They have camped in a bombing restricted zone, risking their lives to stop the bombardment of their soil.

Although groups like the Socialist Front were largely responsible for organizing the demonstrations, right-wing groups like the New Progressive Party have lent their support as well. The united opposition from groups of all political affiliations has been overwhelming.

The Pentagon at first pressed to resume bombing exercises by December. President Clinton responded to the crisis by forming a panel, that resulted in a recommendation which the Navy would be able to occupy Vieques for five more years.

The recommendation was unacceptable to the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico, and activists stopped the military from resuming training in December.

Then, on Feb. 1, in his first ever televised speech to Puerto Rico, President Clinton announced the agreement the two governments had made. The bombing in Vieques will promptly resume and continue for a year and a half, at which point a referendum will be held to decide the fate of the island.

However, even then the referendum will not give the Vieques the option of an immediate end to the military exercises. The two choices will be between allowing the Navy exercises to continue, or voting to end them by 2003.

This means that at the very least the Viequenses have to put up with the bombing for another three years, after which the land will not be transferred back to the Viequenses but to the U.S. General Services Administration.

Even the idea of waiting a year and a half for the referendum is ridiculous. Activist Carlos Zenon stated, “The people of Vieques have already made a decision: U.S. Navy out and not one more bomb of any kind.”

In fact, the agreement was so controversial that the governor of Puerto Rico made the deal with President Clinton secretly for fear of popular outcry. He did not even consult his appointed Vieques Working Group.

The injustice is staggering. The people of Vieques want the training exercises to stop not in three years, but now. They have put up with more than enough bombs being dropped on their soil.

Furthermore, this is not helping the United States’ relationship with Puerto Rico. If the United States does not realize what harm it is doing, it will only be greeted with more hostility from its island territory.

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